Pressley Introduces Bill to Bolster Mental Health Resources for Children and Families

 Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), alongside Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) and Congresswoman Doris Matsui (CA-06), introduced legislation aimed at boosting and expanding mental health services for low-income children and families.

The Early Childhood Mental Health Support Act (H.R. 6509) would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with area experts to compile and make public evidence-based mental health, social-emotional, and behavioral health interventions for young children. The bill also provides grants to Head Start programs to implement these interventions in an effort to ensure every child has access to comprehensive health care.

“From poverty to housing, food, and health care insecurity, low-income children in my district are more vulnerable to trauma-inducing experiences that, when left unaddressed, can lead to health problems, relationship challenges, and mental health and substance use disorders,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “The Early Childhood Mental Health Support Act would provide critical resources to prevent and address childhood trauma for low-income children and families, using best practices and culturally-competent solutions. As we recover from this pandemic and the unprecedented emotional burden on young people, this bill would provide necessary early intervention to help children heal and thrive. I am proud to join Rep. DeSaulnier in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with him to fight to pass this bill.”

“The importance of strong behavioral health support from an early age cannot be overstated,” said Congressman DeSaulnier. “Like many families across the country, I have seen firsthand that the sooner children receive support, the better their outcomes. I am proud to work with Reps. Matsui and Pressley in ensuring these services are available at Head Start and other early education facilities, which will have a positive, lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of millions of children and families while helping to support teachers.”

“Head Start programs have proven benefits—from academic achievement to improved social skills—that provide children with a strong foundation to grow and thrive in their earliest years,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “Mental health is an important part of that foundation, and every Head Start location in the country should have access to the evidence-based tools and resources they need to best serve the behavioral health needs of children under five. I am proud to again join Congressman DeSaulnier in reintroducing the Early Childhood Mental Health Support Act, legislation that supports Head Start programs in carrying out this vision and expands access to mental and behavioral health care for young children.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in five children have a diagnosable mental disorder. Unfortunately, many of these children never receive a diagnosis and do not receive the behavioral health services they need. This lack of access to care can have serious consequences for children, contributing to learning challenges, difficulty forming meaningful relationships, and an increased likelihood of developing more serious mental illnesses later in life.

The Early Childhood Mental Health Support Act is supported by: National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Psychological Association, Massachusetts Head Start, Mental Health America, Trust for America’s Health, Zero to Three, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, First Five Years Fund, First Focus Campaign for Children, and Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs.

“Early intervention is one of our best tools to help realize better outcomes for children at risk of developing mental health conditions. Increasing the availability of evidence-based interventions in school settings like Head Start programs is critical to helping children and families. NAMI is grateful to Congressman DeSaulnier for his leadership in bringing the Early Childhood Mental Health Support Act forward to increase the mental health services available to our nation’s children,” said Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Early childhood is a critical period in development that sets the stage for long-term mental health. APA applauds Rep. DeSaulnier’s leadership in promoting children’s healthy social and emotional development by creating opportunities for Head Start centers to expand evidence-based interventions for parents and children through best practices, enhanced curricula and increased training,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., CEO of the American Psychological Association.

“These past two years have laid bare the immediate need for expanded evidence-based mental health supports for our Commonwealth’s most vulnerable young children and families. Head Start and Early Head Start programs deserve access to all layers of interventions, resources, and funding to comprehensively wrap around children at this critical time,” said Michelle Haimowitz, Executive Director of Massachusetts Head Start.

Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has been a tireless advocate for trauma-conscious policymaking.  In June 2021, Rep. Pressley reintroduced the STRONG Support for Children Act, her landmark legislation that takes a holistic and community-based approach to addressing the growing crisis of childhood trauma. 

In December 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) led their colleagues in urging President Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to prioritize the needs of children who have lost parents and caregivers to COVID-19. 

In October 2021, Rep. Pressley, along with Reps. Dina Titus (NV-01), David McKinley (WV-01) and Peter Meijer (MI-03), unveiled the Post-Disaster Mental Health Response Act, legislation to expand mental health supports for survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks that do not receive a “Major Disaster” declaration by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 

In March 2021, Rep. Pressley sent a letter to President Biden calling on him to address the nation’s growing trauma crisis and laying out a series of steps the administration should take to confront the far-reaching hurt plaguing our communities and our nation.  In April, she published an op-ed where she reflected on the collective pain experienced by communities in her district over the past year. 

In July 2019, Rep. Pressley worked with Chairman Cummings to convene the first-ever Congressional hearings on childhood trauma.  Watch Congresswoman Pressley’s full question line and follow-up questions here and here. 

As a Boston City Councilor, she convened the Council’s first-ever listening-only session to hear directly from those impacted by the trauma of community gun violence. 

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